A new investigation by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has cast doubt on the validity of the Responsible Down Standard, a widely vaunted chain-of-custody process designed to help companies source down from ducks and geese that haven’t been forced-fed or live-plucked for their feathers. As part of its exposé on Thursday, the animal-rights group released undercover video taken at nearly a dozen farms in China, which produces 80 percent of the world’s down for items such as outerwear, bedding, and sleeping bags. PETA’s footage shows workers pinning down struggling geese as they rip feathers from their raw and bloody flesh. At least two of the facilities investigators visited are connected to RDS-certified suppliers of brands such as Eddie Bauer, Lands’ End, and Hollander Sleep Products, PETA said.
Teng Fei Goose Farm in Hebei, according to PETA, sells live-plucked down to the RDS-certified The Sea Feather, a Lu’an-based firm that offers a “non live-plucked products” guarantee. The Sea Feather supplies down to Hollander Sleep Products, which manufactures and markets down products for Ralph Lauren, Nautica, and Simmons.
New White Goose Farming Cooperative, also in Lu’an, sells feathers and down to an intermediary that in turn sells to Allied Feather & Down. Allied, per PETA, supplies down to Eddie Bauer and Lands’ End, among other brands.
Another cooperative, Jilin Wan Long River Animal Husbandry, sends live-plucked feathers to Jilin City Bailing Down Products, where a representative reportedly admitted that the plucking is “done in secret; we’re unwilling to pluck openly.” and “[w]e advertised that it’s all plucked after slaughter—nobody dares to buy it if you say it’s live plucked.”
Bailing sells down to the RDS-certified Down Decor*, another Eddie Bauer and Lands’ End supplier that claims to source its down from sources other than live plucked, PETA said.
“There’s simply no guarantee that the feathers inside any jacket or pillow weren’t ripped out of a screaming goose’s skin,” Ingrid Newkirk, president of PETA, said in a statement. “PETA is calling on kind consumers to ditch down in favor of high-tech synthetics that are compassionate, warm, and hypoallergenic—and even insulate when wet.”
Donna Worley, a spokeswoman for Textile Exchange, the nonprofit that “inherited” the Responsible Down Standard from The North Face and now manages it, expressed horror at the practice of live plucking but asserted that PETA “has not established a link between live plucking and RDS-certified products.”
“As soon as we became aware of PETA’s investigation, we spoke with our certification bodies and certified suppliers in this region, and we have confirmation that no down from the PETA-investigated sites could have been sold as certified RDS down,” Worley told Ecouterre, before adding that PETA allegations could damage the momentum gained in the four years since the standard was established to protect and improve the welfare of ducks and geese.
“Through the Responsible Down Standard, we have had a large and extensive impact on the lives of geese and ducks around the world,” Worley added. “We provide traceability needed to ensure that RDS down does not come from live-plucked birds and to reduce the occurrence of live plucking and force feeding in the industry as a whole.”
Eddie Bauer and Lands’ End, for their part, have denied purchasing live-plucked down.
“Lands’ End does not use, purchase or source live plucked down, which is a barbaric practice that is completely out of line with our values,” a spokeswoman from Lands’ End told WWD. “As an industry leader, we have worked tirelessly to operate with a zero tolerance policy to ensure that our suppliers, vendors, and all involved parties of our supply chain adhere to the highest standards of compliance and ethics.”
Similarly, Eddie Bauer CEO Mike Egeck notified PETA that the brand not only eschews live-plucked down for its products but that there is “no evidence” of live-plucked down in its supply chain.
Still, PETA is asking consumers to petition down-using companies to ditch the feathers in favor of animal-free alternatives.
“There is no justification for supporting such appalling cruelty by purchasing down from suppliers that continue to deal in live-plucked feathers,” PETA wrote in an online petition, which at press time racked up more than 56,000 signatures. “You already offer many great down-free options that are at least as light and warm as down. Please drop down completely from your line immediately.”
Update: June 2, 2016
A representative from Down Decor sent us an email saying that Bailing does not sell down to Down Decor, “specifically because Bailing could not get RDS certification.”
“In fact, Down Decor had actually ordered samples of down from Bailing on the understanding that they’d get certified,” he said. “When they could not, Down Decor simply chose not to do business with them.”